Lebanon State Forest, NJ
Laura K. Leuter, Charley Lolio, Belinda Connolly, Dave Morgan, Katie Brown, Jeff Heimbuch
Continuing in the spirit of new location investigation, we picked another place out in the Pine Barrens for today's hunt. This is literally a case where we were driving in the middle of the Pine Barrens and scoped out a great spot, then quickly turned off of the road and checked it out. Prior to the hunt we had narrowed down the general area that we would investigate, but when we finally got out there today, it was simply a matter of randomly selecting a starting point that looked good.
The day didn't start off with a hunt, however. Katie, Bel, and I found ourselves seated in a studio located on Burlington County College, meeting with Tom Gagliardi of the Gagliarchives, discussing the Jersey Devil for an upcoming radio show. We had a good time answering Tom's questions, and had a nice chat with him afterwards. It was a great way to get us all in the mood for some Jersey Devil research.
After the interview, we headed out towards the Manchester/Whiting area to meet up with Jeff, Charley, and Dave. I followed Charley's Jeep into the woods as he selected a promising dirt road to begin our investigation. I was a little concerned that my Saturn Vue might have a hard time out there, but it held up just fine as we found a small clearing and parked the vehicles.
We all threw on our gear and Jeff brought out a ridiculously cool video camera to capture the day's events. The place we had picked couldn't have been better. We walked down a sandy path that ran alongside a channel that appeared to have been intentionally created as some sort of irrigation system. This place had great atmosphere, it looked like it was the poster image for a Pine Barrens pamphlet. We hiked down the trails a bit, encountering some deer footprints, as well as some others that we were unable to identify - most likely a large dog or something of the sort. It had been mildly raining off and on, so the tracks weren't very clear and had been affected by the rain.
After walking along the trails for a little while, we came to the clearing and got a glimpse of a pretty impressive sight. We were standing on the edge of a giant stretch of cranberry bogs. We had known previously that they were out here, and I have driven past cranberry bogs many times, but standing at the edge of it was quite impressive. It was huge and stretched on almost as far as the eye could see. The channel that we had walked along was feeding into the maze of channels used to irrigate the cranberry bogs. We walked up to the edge of one of the bogs and looked down to see some cranberries that had been left there from the previous harvest. It was quite interesting to see.
We hiked back out to where we had come from and found some interesting paths that led to the edge of the channel by the cars again. This time, I foolishly braved a thin board and walked across to the other side of the channel. At the surface, it looked like a skinny bridge, but when we took a second look, we realized that it was some sort of dam that was blocking the flow of water throughout the area. No one else was really all that willing to cross the skinny dam with me, and the other side wasn't really very open, so I carefully walked back across the dam and joined the rest of the team.
We continued out to the other side of the area to find more and more cranberry bogs. They are really quite amazing, as well as peaceful. Our feet were sinking into the marshy ground as we got closer to the water's edge. At this point, there were some noises, but nothing all that scary. The area was still fairly well lit, so there wasn't much of an eeriness. Instead we all had more of a calm feeling.
Right before dusk we pulled out of the woods to take a quick break at a local Wawa and wait sunset out to continue our investigation. The group got a little stir crazy in the cars, and much foolishness ensued.
Finally it was at the time in the day when the daylight begins to fade rapidly, so we pulled out of the parking lot and took the ride back to the area we had investigated earlier. We parked the cars in the same location and began to cover ourselves in bugspray (as we had already found at least 2 or 3 ticks on ourselves during our break).
The feeling of the area was immensely different in the dark. For one, it had completely come to life. While we had experienced a calm silence earlier, it was as though all of the animals in the area were now very much so awake and making noise. The frogs were overwhelmingly loud, and were everywhere by the channel. We began hiking along the same path as earlier, listening to the symphony of the creatures of the Pine Barrens. It was ridiculous. The day's rain had created a thick fog that was now moving through the woods, tremendously limiting our visibility.
While taking in the common sounds, suddenly we heard the loud croaking of a bullfrog. It was so close and so loud that it almost startled us at first. The group didn't originally recognize it as the sound of a bullfrog until we were able to hear it another time. Once it got started, however, there were no shortage of repeat sounds. One bullfrog would call and another would answer; then another, and another, and another... The whole bank was alive with their calls.
We walked back out to the clearing where the bogs began. Charley and I began to take the night vision out of the bag, and the plan was for us all to sit in that location and basically observe the area. We had started to become familiar with the noises of the area by then, and we found that our eyes adjusted better without our flashlights, so we shut them off.
The most startling sound of the evening came from behind me when I was helping Charley set up the microphone on the night vision. We had been huddled up in a semi-circle at the time, and I had my back turned on the bogs. Suddenly we heard a splashing and a simultaneous bang in the water behind us (approximately 8 - 10 feet from where we were standing). We flipped the lights on and tried to identify the source of the noise, but none of us could. I'm not sure what it was, but it was surprising at the time. We didn't hear that noise again for the rest of the evening.
We stood in the dark by the cranberry bogs for quite some time. Off in the distance, we began to hear a loud rhythmic banging. Katie mentioned that it sounded like a gun, and a few seconds after that, it clicked - we were listening to Army training that was going on miles away in the distance. We weren't too far away from Fort Dix, so it wasn't all that surprising that we would hear gunfire. It was far enough away that we weren't concerned with running into them, but it was still a chilling sound. (At least we hope it was the Army, if it was something else then we'd rather not know what was going on out there!)
Katie watched a deer cross the path behind us. We turned on our flashlights and made our way back towards the trail. My flashlight caught the reflection of an animal eye, but it turned out to be nothing more than a rabbit. We returned to the cars and decided to ride out a little further down the trails. It ended up being similar to what we had done before. We were hearing a ton of noise - all of them perfectly natural and explainable. The rustling was caused by the wind; the pitter-patter was the raindrops falling through the woods; the croaking and calling were the frogs catching each others' attention. All perfectly normal, and while they were interesting, it wasn't turning up much in the way of the Jersey Devil. So, we wrapped up the evening and headed back out.
And now, our next attempt at a video blog from Hunt #36! This time, the video was done on much higher quality equipment, so it's much easier to watch. Thanks to Jeff Heimbuch for filming and editing this clip!